I’ve been denying it, trying to hold it off, but I can’t keep my head in the sand any longer. Summer is coming to an end and school is about to start. In fact in some districts it already has started. Although I don’t have school age children anymore, I do watch my three grandchildren everyday. So that means summer fun and weeks spent at Granny and Grandad’s “Farm” will be coming to an end as well. That also means thinking about back to school lunches.

And that of course means it’s time to get back into a school year routine. My grandchildren go to a very small private Christian school with no cafeteria. So part of the back to school routine in my daughter’s household, and many others, is packing school lunches. Even if the school your child goes to has a cafeteria, packed lunches are a great option when your child isn’t too fond of what the school has to offer or if you want a little more control over what your child is eating.

Of course for gluten-free children, packing lunches is a must. Frankly, packing a lunch allows you to include healthy foods your child will actually eat and it doesn’t have to cost any more than what you would be paying for lunch at school.

Of course packing a lunch every day doesn’t do any good if your child doesn’t eat it or ends up trading most of it away for junk food. The key here is to find things that your child loves and enjoys eating.

You’ll want to start by getting your child involved. Depending on the age of your kids, you could even put them in charge of making their own lunches. Not only do you know that they’ll pack something they will eat, being in charge of packing lunch will teach them responsibility.

Next, talk to your kids about what they want in their lunch box. Make a list of options and then head to the store so you have everything you need for the first week of school. Getting the kids as involved as possible will make sure that they end up with lunches they will eat. For older kids that may mean making their own lunches (under your supervision of course).

Younger children can help. Even your kindergartener can wash grapes and put them into a container, or pick a snack for his lunch box. Get in the habit of making lunches together the night before. Over time you can give the kids more and more responsibility for their lunches. This alone will help make sure they eat what they’ve packed. After all, it’s the lunch they made. Along the way you’re teaching them independence and important life skills.

Of course you want to encourage your kids to pack and eat healthy foods. Insisting on all healthy, organic food options all the time may not be your best strategy though. Strike a balance and make compromises. If your kids pack and eat a healthy wrap or salad for example, let them have a cookie or two. Just remind them to swish some water around in their mouths to get some of that sugar off of their teeth.

Teach them to make good choices, but don’t freak out if they decide to pack some Cheetos or a bag of chips. Your goal is to get them to eat fairly healthy and make smart food choices, not restrict all access to junk food, causing them to trade with friends for foods that are forbidden.

I’ll be back with more school lunch ideas and options tomorrow.